Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous walks a fine line. Co-created by and starring YouTube sensation turned comedy wunderkind Bo Burnham, the mockumentary-style show follows a new high school graduate who hires a film crew to make a reality show about his life. “You’re watching exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage of a pre-celebrity,” Zach Stone says in the first minute of the pilot. He’s spending his life savings, and foregoing college, to follow his dream of fame at all costs.
Mocking reality shows has existed almost as long as reality shows themselves and become almost a genre unto itself, with recent examples like spoof web series Burning Love and Bobcat Goldthwait’s indie film God Bless America. But unlike those outsider perspectives, Zach Stone lives in the belly of the beast. Airing on MTV after a Jersey Shore spinoff (The Show with Vinny starring Vinny Guadagnino), the show is aimed straight at the young audience who made shows like Teen Mom and Buckwild hits for the network.
It’s a gamble. Many of the people who would embrace the more scathing elements of the satire couldn’t find MTV on their cable boxes, while the show risks alienating the network’s existing audience if they feel too judged. But in the pilot episode, as well as two others sent out, it’s clear that both Zach Stone the show and Zach Stone the character have their hearts in the right place. While the show clearly doesn’t want anyone thinking Stone’s idea is one to emulate (Burnham has referred to his character as “the world’s most punchable boy”), there’s no ill will towards the delusional young man. His attempts at proven fame whore paths — making a sex tape, becoming a celebrity chef — are begrudgingly accepted by his sensible parents, sane best friend, and slightly annoyed love interest.
Those characters also indicate that, despite the reality show premise, the show is in many ways a traditional sitcom, with each episode culminating in a big, embarrassing fiasco (the pilot sees Zach trying to “host” a funeral). But the show also includes plenty of the clever wordplay and misdirection for which Burnham is known, which means even comedy-savvy viewers will find it really, really funny. And of course, Rory Scovel is fantastic as Zach’s boss, a leery, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing grocery store manager.
From the three episodes sent out (the first, fourth, and sixth of season), it’s hard to say whether they show builds a strong arc across the season, or focuses more on wacky, one-episode stories. (The theme song indicates the latter. Each episode gets its own version of the opening credits tailored to that week’s storyline, the show’s only nod to Burnham’s musical comedy.) But either way, it’ll be worth watching.
Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous airs Thursdays at 10:30 ET/PT on MTV.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York. There are too many parentheses in this review (she thinks).